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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Kama Gita - Maha Bharata Series 28

Editorial comment:       Dear children and friends, recently I came across something profound in my reading of Mahabharata. This was so interesting that I decided to share it with you sooner than later. This breaks the sequence of this series since I am jumping from Book 3 to Book 14.  But, I am sure you will find this thought-provoking.

               Coming into Book 14 (Ashvameda Parva), I just landed on a precious gem in Section 11. It is called Kama Gita (Song on Desires).  Have you heard of this one? I had not, till I landed on it. It is Lord Krishna’s address to Yudhisthra. It is about desires – day-to-day desires - of us common folks. It is worth reading and pondering about. Here is a summary and not a word-by-word translation.

Yudhishtra is still distraught about the loss of so many lives including those of his relatives and sons. He is feeling bad because he thinks he is responsible for the loss of so many lives. Sage Vyasa literally scolded him for being so despondent. It is now Krishna’s turn. He says: “Wisdom is not just understanding that all unrighteousness leads to destruction and all righteousness leads to Brahman. You have not lived out your karma and your enemies have not all been killed. I say this because you do not yet know the enemies lurking within you. (meaning, you have to win your internal battles yet). So, let me tell you about the war between Indra and Vritra”.

Now, we need to briefly note who Vritra is in Hindu mythology. Vritra is a demon (asura) with dragon-like features who envelopes everything. The belief was that Vritra was responsible for droughts, because he kept the clouds from letting their water down on earth. We can understand why this was important for people in ancient days, when they did not know the cause for natural phenomena and attributed them to the actions of gods and demons. As mythology goes, Indra struck Vritra with his thunderbolt and killed him so that clouds can give water to people in the form of rain. The rest of the belief resides in the fact that the gods depend upon yagnas (sacrifices) for their sustenance and people cannot perform yagnas without food and cattle. Thus people satisfy the gods and gods in turn give rain and prosperity to people.

“It so happened that Vritra encompassed the earth and since Earth element is the source of odor (Samkhya philosophy), there was bad odor all around. Indra got angry and shot a thunderbolt at Vritra. Although he was wounded, Vritra moved on and entered the realm of Water. Therefore, there was dryness all around. Indra smote Vritra again. Now, Vritra entered the element of Light and luminosity and therefore, form and color disappeared. Struck again by Indra, Vritra entered the element of Air and therefore the property of touch was lost. Indra struck again and Vritra entered the realm of Space (akasa). Therefore, sound which is the inherent property of space was lost. When he was struck again, Vritra entered the body of his attacker, Indra, himself. Indra was now afflicted by delusion until Vasishta advised Indra about his true nature. On realizing his true self, Indra used his invisible thunderbolt and killed Vritra from inside of Vritra”.

At the end of this story-telling, Krishna uses the words “this religious mystery”. Based on those words, and the context in which Krishna speaks with Yudhishtra, my personal interpretation is that this is the internal fight between ignorance and enlightenment within each one of us. We have to chase our own weaknesses and win this fight by our own efforts from within our own self.

Lord Krishna goes on to say: “There are two kinds of ailments – physical and mental. They are produced by the mutual interactions between the body and the mind. They act on each other. The ailments never arise without interactions between these two.”  Since the time Mahabharata was written came after that of Buddha, it is possible that these ideas were borrowed.

Then, the idea is taken further by Krishna (Vasudeva) to state that diseases of the body are due to imbalance between the humors. These are vada, pitta and kapa in our system. In the Greek philosophy, four humors are mentioned: blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. Western medicine was dominated by this humoral theory until about 200 years ago. The ayurvedic system is still influenced by the three-humor theory.

On the mental side, Krishna says: “diseases of the mind and of the soul are due to the dominance of one of the three qualities of matter (prakriti) – sattwa, rajas and tamas”.  

“Happiness is overcome by sorrow and sorrow by happiness. When drowned in sorrow, some want to recall moments of happiness from the past. Others, in contrast, are dwelling in past moments of sadness, when in the midst of happiness. But, oh son of Kunti, you do not desire to recall your sorrows or happiness. What do you want to recall except this delusion of sorrow?” ( This  suggest to me that Krishna is saying that Yudhistra is not experiencing the present moment and the real pain, but wallowing in his delusional sadness. This is the concept of two arrows of Buddha. The first arrow is the pain. The second is our imaginations about the pain).

“Yudhsitra, may be you have been overpowered by events and are not able to recall the various insults. Have you forgotten the painful sight of Draupadi being humiliated in public? Have you forgotten your having to leave all of your comforts and go and live in the forests with your mother, brothers and Draupadi? Have you forgotten Jarasandha and Kichaka?:

“It is time now for you to fight the (internal) battle, which each must fight single-handedly with his mind. You have to reach the other side of this mysterious and unintelligible mind by the power of your own mind and the merit of your karma. In this battle there is no need for armaments and missiles, help from friends or any other person. In this battle which you have to fight alone (the implication is that even Lord Krishna cannot help him), if you are vanquished you will be in a wretched plight. Knowing this, knowing the destiny of all creatures and following the conduct of your ancestors, do your duty”.

Lord Krishna continues: “Liberation (moksha) is not obtained by giving up external things such as kingdom. It is attained by letting go of things which please the flesh. If you let go of external things but  still remain attached to pleasures of the body, you are feeding your enemies. Mrityu is the death of the soul and Saswatam is Brahman, the eternal spirit. The state of being addicted to worldly objects and the idea that this thing or that thing belongs to me is Mrityu. The absence of that feeling is Saswatam. Both are in the souls of all creatures, hidden and always waging war with each other. If it be true that no creature is ever destroyed, you cannot hold your responsible for the death of a creature by piercing its body. For one who is not attached to worldly pleasures after conquering the world , there is no concern. But for one who says he has renounced everything living in the forest but is thinking about all the pleasures , death is always there very near. Oh, Bharata, always be watchful of your internal and external enemies.”

Vasudeva continues: “There is no act without a desire behind it. Desires are like the limbs of our minds. Wise men know this and subjugate the mind and thus their desires. A yogi knows that control of the mind is the best way to liberation. Virtue is in the subjugation of the mind in meditation followed by Vedic learning, charity, asceticism and performance of Vedic rites. All of this is given in Kama Gita which I will now recite”.

Lord Krishna recites the Kama Gita as follows: “ No creature can destroy me without controlling all desires and practicing yoga.  If someone tries to overpower me by reciting prayers, I delude him by making him believe that I am the subjective ego in him. If someone tries to overpower me with gifts and sacrifices, I delude him by making him think he is the most virtuous person (making him arrogant, lose humility, delude) in the world. If he tries to control me by learning the Vedas. I make him think he is virtuous. For someone who is wedded to truth, and tries to overcome me, I appear to him as his mind and thus he does not recognize me (as the controller). If someone tries to overpower me with his asceticism, I appear in his mind as his asceticism and thus prevent him from knowing me. I laugh at the ignorance of a man who thinks he can know me by learning and knowledge.  Know me to be the eternal one without comparison, whom no one can destroy or kill. Turn your mind away from desires to virtues (dharma) and attain what is good for you.  Let not grief overpower you. You will never be able to see your family and friends killed in the battle. Prepare for performing the asvamedha sacrifice and give (dana) to the worthy and attain fame in this world”.

To me, this is one of the remarkable teachings in Mahabharata with a sharp analysis of the realities of life on earth and our efforts to make a meaning out of the mystery.

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